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The Coming Food Fight

Addressing the growing problem of food insecurity must be central to the global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. But the debate in the run-up to the September 23 United Nations Food Systems Summit suggests that a practical consensus among governments, business, and civil-society groups may prove elusive.

In this Big Picture, Sandrine Dixson-Declève of the Club of Rome, José Antonio Ocampo of Columbia University, and Felia Salim of the Partnership for Governance Reform urge governments to consider establishing a new multilateral Food Systems Stability Board charged with tackling rising hunger and malnutrition. And Gloria Abraham Peralta, Costa Rica’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization, thinks policymakers should focus on correcting and reducing the distortions currently burdening food and agricultural markets.

But the role of the business and financial sectors in shaping the agenda of the upcoming summit has been highly controversial. Hilal Elver, a former UN special rapporteur on the right to food, questions whether the summit will endorse the transformative policies needed to ensure adequate nutrition for all. The Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Barbara Unmüßig expresses similar doubts, and calls for a people’s food systems summit that stands up to powerful economic interests and focuses on the needs of the most vulnerable.

Others are more optimistic. Simon Zadek of the Finance for Biodiversity Initiative proposes four ways to mobilize private capital behind the transition to more viable, equitable food production. Similarly, Agnes Kalibata, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Food Systems Summit, and Kristina Skierka of Power for All argue that low-income countries dependent on agriculture need increased green finance and access to affordable clean energy.

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